Expert answers on recording ex-spouses and stepchildren on your family tree.
A reader asked,
"I'm confused. Do I put the names of divorced relatives on a family
tree chart if they have biological children on the chart? If the
descendant remarried and had children with another spouse, do I list
them separately with the descendant?"
The answer depends whether you’re putting together a family tree for
research purposes or for another reason, such as a decorative display.
For genealogy research, you’d record all this information, but not on one chart. On your five-generation ancestor chart
you record only your biological ancestors—parents, grandparents,
great-grandparents, etc. No aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings. Spouses
or partners who aren’t your ancestors aren’t listed, either.
means you’d put your mom’s biological parents on a five-generation
chart even if they divorced and remarried other people. Also, because
no siblings are listed on a five-generation chart, you don’t have to
worry about any half- or step siblings your mom may have.
You’ll record siblings and other spouses on a family group sheet (also available on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
for each family. Here, you write the parents and children of a nuclear
family; this form also has spaces to name each parent’s previous or
subsequent spouses. If your grandmother was widowed before she met your
grandfather, you’d make two family group sheets for her: One for your
grandmother with her first husband and their children, and another for
your grandmother with your grandfather and their children.
may be thinking that five-generation charts aren’t very adaptable to
blended, adoptive and other nontraditional families. In a purely
genealogical sense, ancestors are biological parents, grandparents,
etc., whether or not they lived with their children. But if you want to
trace your adoptive or step family, you can find charts designed for
nontraditional families, such as our adoptive family tree
You also can record people on a traditional five-generation chart,
though we recommend clearly indicating the step or adoptive
If you’re filling out a decorative family tree
for display or a baby book, rather than one for your personal research,
how you handle relationships is really up to you. We do recommend that
to prevent confusion for future family historians, you indicate
relationships clearly and/or also keep a five-generation pedigree chart
with biological relationships.
If you’re designing your own tree, you can use dashed or colored lines (similar to those on a type of family map called a genogram
) to indicate various types of relationships.
Whether you're breaking through brick walls or just getting started, ShopFamilyTree.com
has resources for every genealogist.